The Catalan Independence Movement

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The people of Spain are divided, and soon the land may be divided too. For many years, people living in Catalonia, an upper region of Spain known for the famous city of Barcelona, have been trying to break away from the country and gain independence.

One of the reasons why Catalans want this independence is because many of the people living in the region generally feel that the government takes a lot in taxes and does not give as much back. Wesleyan Spanish teacher Whitney Martinez said, “Historically, Catalonians have seen themselves as distinct partly because of economics. The region brings a lot of economic success to the country of Spain, but they feel like they are having to pay too much in taxes. They are giving a lot, but the rest of the country is not really giving back to them.” Catalonia is one of the most productive and wealthy regions in Spain, and its people make up about 16% of Spain’s population. Separatists, Catalans wanting to leave Spain, feel that if they became independent from Spain, they would be able to use more of their wealth and not be taxed unfairly. Another reason why Catalans would want independence from Spain is their distinct history and culture. Wesleyan foreign language teacher Suzanne Ragains said, “Catalonia is a culturally and linguistically distinct part of Spain. If you meet someone from Catalonia, they will not say they are Spanish, they will say they’re Catalan.” When asked why she thought Catalonia wanted its independence, Ragains said, “They [Catalans] feel an identity which is distinct from the rest of Spain, and with that comes this desire to be politically separate from the rest of Spain.”

One of the biggest moments in the modern independence movement happened a few years ago. On Oct. 27, 2017, Catalan Parliament declared their independence. However, on the same day, the Spanish government suspended the Catalan declaration of independence. The European Union has treated this crisis as an internal problem for Spain. As a result, they have not sent in any help for the separatists, but that does not mean that no one is aware of their struggles. According to the British news channel BBC, in 2017, the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is responsible for creating a democracy ranking for countries each year, said, “Spain risked being downgraded from a ‘full democracy’ to a ‘flawed’ one over its handling of the situation.” Spanish law enforcers have sometimes reacted violently to the Catalan protests and have even jailed politicians opposing them. In Oct. 2019, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan politicians to jail terms between nine and 13 years for that independence bid, and three others were fined. If Spain were declared a “flawed” democracy, this could affect outsiders’ views on the country and might even prevent people from wanting to travel there. This kind of oppression is not new to the Catalans. Martinez said, “Throughout history with different monarchs, their [Catalan] culture was oppressed. There has been a growing frustration and unrest caused by different monarchs oppressing the people and telling them they had to speak one language [Spanish] in the whole country, and they had to pay a lot of taxes.”

There is a lot to consider when thinking about Catalonia’s complicated struggle for independence. This conflict could take a long time to resolve, but with the way tensions are rising, there is a good chance that the world will see either a united Spain or an independent Catalonia very soon. Wesleyan history teacher Kevin Kadzis recognized that this movement could become a trend in Europe. Kadzis said, “Europe is made up of many different nation states, cultures and ethnicities, and if one group of people decides that they want to become independent, what’s to stop other groups from doing that? While they are different countries, it could start a tidal wave of small independence movements.”  Other regions in the world could see Catalonia’s efforts and become inspired to do something similar in their own country.

Catalans have many reasons for wanting to be independent, but the question remains as to whether a newly independent Catalonia would be able to last and avoid corruption. Ragains said, “There are many communities within countries, especially in western Europe, that have a distinct cultural and linguistic identity like Catalonia does. But, are they stronger by themselves or are they stronger as part of the country that they’re in?”

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